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Films focus on plight of Arctic residents

By Agence France-Presse in Berlin | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-18 07:52

Indigenous people fighting to preserve their ancient Arctic lifestyles and the very ground under their feet are the focus of a series of feature films at this year's Berlin Film Festival.

Documentarians are taking a cold, hard look at the plight of tribes on the frontlines of climate change in the icy northern latitudes of Scandinavia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Iceland and Greenland.

The common theme is the twin threat faced by native peoples who have traditionally herded reindeer, or hunted seals and whales, before nation states put them into permanent towns and their children into residential schools.

In the historical documentary Kaisa's Enchanted Forest, director Katja Gauriloff tells the story of her late great-grandmother Kaisa, a weathered matriarch of Finland's Skolt Sami minority.

Using old black-and-white footage, it portrays the simple life of the semi-nomadic Sami in summer lakeside cabins and winter block huts, their children riding reindeer and skating on frozen lakes.

Kaisa shares her folk wisdom and magical tales - she uses white bird feathers to sweep her hut because, she says, evil spirits mistake them for an angel's wing.

The tale darkens when World War II destroys the Sami's ancestral homes and forces them into camps where disease takes a heavy toll. They later move to a permanent settlement, their lives from now shaped by assimilation into Finland.

Gauriloff said her community counts just a few hundred people, adding that "the reason I don't speak my mother tongue is there on the screen".

Tundra teddy bears

Another loving depiction of a vanishing way of life close to nature is The Tundra Book. A Tale of Vukvukai - The Little Rock.

The film is an intimate portrait of the 78-year-old Vukvukai and his clan in Siberia's Chukchi community, which lives far north of the tree line.

Viewers are invited into his clan's heavy-skinned yurts as icy winds howl outside, and watch as herders corral, lasso and wrestle reindeer for slaughter, offering their thanks to the creator.

The audience laughs as children in furry overalls tumble through the snow, resembling teddy bears. Then, in the chapter Steel Bird Takes the Kids Away, a helicopter carries the children off to a Russian state residential school where they spend 10 months of the year.

"Women give birth to people just to throw them away," Vukvukai said.

"How will we survive?"

More than 400 films from around the world have been screened at the festival, which runs wraps up this weekend.

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